You’ve probably heard the saying “No hoof, no horse.”
Turns out, that saying couldn’t be more true! The hoof is a spectacular feat (pun intended) of natural engineering that supports the weight of a horse’s entire body, absorbs ground forces and makes it possible to traverse over many different terrains.
Given the importance of the hoof, it’s important to know that what you feed your horse will have a profound impact on its hoof growth and quality.
In this article, we will go over what nutrients your horse needs to grow strong, robust, beautiful hooves and how you as a horse owner can deliver those nutrients in the most effective way possible.
Balanced Nutrition: The First Order of Business
If you are noticing that your horse’s hooves are brittle, cracking, or not holding shoes properly, it’s most likely that your horse’s nutrition is unbalanced.
The fundamentals of creating an equine diet plan to maximize not only hoof growth, but overall health and well-being are to:
- Evaluate your horse and the hay it is eating
- Balance minerals and vitamins
- Provide sufficient amino acids
You can analyze your horse’s diet online to determine which nutrients need to be adjusted to achieve optimal balance.
Evaluate Your Horse and Its Hay
We all know that horses need forage as the basis of their diet and that not every horse is the same.
What a lot of horse owners don’t know, however, is that the mineral and vitamin profile of that hay or pasture can vary widely and that every horse is unique in their nutritional needs.
Create a Profile of Your Horse
Special care should be taken to evaluate your horse and it’s individual needs. Think about questions like:
- Are they undergoing light or intense training?
- Have they been diagnosed with a certain health condition that warrants additional supplementation?
- How much does he or she weigh?
All of these questions should form the structure of your horse’s profile and then taken into account when determining the correct feed and nutrient intake for optimal hoof growth.
Visit our page where you can create a profile for your horse for more information and to get started on this step.
Evaluate Your Hay
Although hay contains many of the minerals required by the horse, it certainly does not contain all of them and often not in the correct balance or sufficient quantity.
The process of curing and storing hay destroys most of the vitamins that were present in the fresh standing forage and the trace mineral content can vary tremendously across geographical regions and hay species. Therefore, it is necessary to supplement these if they are absent or deficient in your horse’s diet.
In order to know the exact composition of your hay, a hay sample needs to be taken and analyzed in a lab. Learn more in our guide on how to take a hay analysis and understand your analysis.
This step is crucial because forage makes up the majority of a horse’s diet.
After testing your hay, the levels of nutrients will then be presented in a report that can be used to indicate nutritional deficiencies or excesses in your hay. From there, decisions on what nutrients to supplement your horse can be made.
Balance Minerals and Vitamins
Minerals and vitamins are critically important to the ultimate health and performance of your horse and are especially implicated in growth and development.
The most comprehensive way to balance your horse’s mineral and vitamin requirements is to evaluate your horse and the hay it is consuming and supplement from there to fill in the gaps. By approaching it this way, you can provide adequate, balanced levels of important nutrients while avoiding wasting money on expensive supplements.
The most widely researched trace minerals and vitamins contributing to hoof growth and quality are:
- Copper (Cu)
- Zinc (Zn)
- Biotin (Vitamin B7)
There are currently many “hoof-building” supplements on the market that promise to deliver high levels of these minerals and vitamins, however, many come up short or unbalanced. When the labels are evaluated closely, the amounts of these important nutrients are often inadequate in these products – sometimes not even providing baseline requirements!
What levels should I be looking for?
Selecting a quality mineral and vitamin for your horse can be difficult because there are many options to choose from.
Whenever you are looking at an equine mineral or vitamin supplement, be sure to read the guaranteed analysis on the label. All minerals and vitamins should be listed in the guaranteed analysis. Below is a sample guaranteed analysis of a typical “hoof-building” supplement:
Although the product contains the key nutrients: zinc, copper and biotin; it will not balance the typical equine diet. It may lead to improved hoof structure from the previous state due to the inclusion of biotin, but there may be other deficiencies lingering from the nutrients that are not contained in the supplement. It is always best to use a completely balanced mineral and vitamin supplement, not just a ‘hoof supplement’.
In our article on how to supplement trace minerals in your horse’s diet, we go over trace mineral requirements for horses and what levels you should aim for when choosing a mineral and vitamin supplement.
Ensuring that your horse’s whole diet reaches baseline requirements of these trace minerals is a great starting point in getting your horse’s diet properly balanced.
With biotin, it has been proven that continually supplementing horses biotin at 20 mg/day improves the hoof quality (1). Therefore, a good baseline for supplementation would be 20 mg/day.
Provide Sufficient Amino Acids
In addition to evaluating your horse and its hay and then balancing the minerals and vitamins in the diet, your horse also needs sufficient levels of amino acids in order to synthesize healthy hoof tissue.
Hoof tissue is made of keratin, which is a protein that is composed of certain amino acids. Supplementing with the essential amino acids Lysine, Methionione and Threonine will go a long way in supporting healthy hoof growth and they will work together with trace minerals to grow strong hoof tissue.
Mad Barn’s AminoTrace+ and Omneity equine mineral and vitamin both contain high levels of essential amino acids as well as copper, zinc and biotin to support the enzymes that link amino acids together to form hoof tissue.
Formulated to balance the minerals and vitamin profile of a wide range of forages, AminoTrace+ or Omneity can be given in conjunction with most forages and loose salt to optimize hoof growth and quality and maintain overall health.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
This photo is from a horse owner that was feeding Omneity – Equine Mineral and Vitamin to her horse to support healthy hoof growth. She stopped feeding the supplement for 5 weeks. This created an obvious area of decreased hoof wall thickness, about 2 inches down from the coronet band, as seen in the picture below.
The importance of proper mineral and vitamin nutrition can not be overstated. It is absolutely imperative for the long term health of your horse and quality hoof growth.
Is your horse struggling with hoof growth issues? Contact Mad Barn today for nutrition advice that will optimize your horse’s hoof growth.
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- H Josseck, W Zenker & H Geyer. Hoof horn abnormalities in Lipizzaner horses and the effect of dietary biotin on macroscopic aspects of hoof horn quality, Equine Veterinary Journal, 27:1, 175-82, 1995